Altoist Sonny Simmons made a strong impression in the 1960s as one of the most promising avant-garde players. He grew up in Oakland, California, started playing English horn, and then at 16 took up the alto. Stints with Lowell Fulsom and Amos Milburn and some time spent playing bebop preceded Simmons finding his own sound in free jazz. In 1961, he spent some time with Charles Mingus and then, in 1962, he formed a group with flutist Prince Lasha. After they recorded The Cry, Simmons moved to New York, recorded with Elvin Jones and Eric Dolphy, and then in 1965 he returned to the Bay Area. Simmons met and married the powerful trumpeter Barbara Donald, recorded for ESP, and the duo performed and recorded in several settings.
However, by the mid-'70s Simmons largely dropped out of music, the marriage broke up, and the altoist was forgotten for nearly 20 years. In 1994, Sonny Simmons (who had apparently played on the streets and been scuffling) suddenly re-emerged in peak form and as adventurous as ever, recording a brilliant trio album (Ancient Ritual) for Qwest/Warner Bros. that earned him long overdue recognition and launched the beginning of his second career. Simmons then recorded additional sets for Qwest and CIMP, including Transcendence (1996), American Jungle (1997), and Universal Prayer/Survival Skills (1999).
In the 2000s, Simmons continued his latter-career resurgence with several well-received albums including Jewels (2004), The Traveller (2005), I'll See You When You Get There (2006), and Last Man Standing (2007). In 2014, he paired with the French psychedelic outfit Moksha Samnyasin for the album Nomadic. The archival 1991 live album Reincarnation, featuring Simmons performing with trumpeter Donald (who passed away in 2013), appeared on Arhoolie in 2015. ~ Scott Yanow